Troubled Generations? An Oral History of Youth Experience of the Conflict in Belfast, 1969-1998

  • Lucy Newby

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis is an oral history of youth experience in Belfast during the Northern Ireland Conflict,
1969-1998. The focus of the thesis is on two key areas. Firstly, it historically interrogates the
experiences of children and young people in Belfast during the years of the ‘Troubles’. Secondly,
it critically explores the ways in which those who grew up in the violently disrupted environment
of the city have since reflected upon and made sense of their experiences in the ‘post-conflict’
era. This dual focus upon youth conflict experience and its legacies in the present provides a
means of contributing to—and challenging the limits of—current scholarly debates within the
fields of cultural memory and post-conflict studies in Northern Ireland, as well as engaging with
emergent themes in the fields of childhood studies, historical justice and critical oral history
theory and practice.

Through a close analysis of nine oral history narratives, this thesis reconsiders the ways in which
children and young people living in regions to the north and west of Belfast that were heavily
affected by the conflict experienced their everyday lives during the years of armed violence.
Significantly, it challenges the dominant interpretation of the young as members of ‘troubled
generations’; transformed by the presence of violence into tragic victims or destabilised
combatants. Drawing on the critical oral history methodologies of Alessandro Portelli, Alistair
Thomson, Penny Summerfield and Graham Dawson, it considers the circulation of such
categories in popular memory culture, proposing an engagement with this culture as a dynamics
of power, or hierarchy of speakability and hearability, which works to de-limit the articulation
of more complex, unfixed or uncertain narratives of the conflict and its impacts.

To recognise that such a hierarchy of speakability and hearability exists is also to recognise that
new techniques are needed in order to create space for the articulation of more intricate or
ambivalent narratives of conflict. This thesis proposes that we move beyond the effort to elicit
the fully-formed counter-narrative in critical oral history and instead focus on those fugitive and
sometimes fleeting moments of narrative defiance, which trouble and contest dominant
representations of the ‘troubled generations’, testing their limits and tearing at their edges. By
focusing on moments of narrative defiance within the interviews, the thesis expands the field
of possible methodologies for interpreting the ways in which individuals subjectively articulate
their experiences of conflict as children and young people. It offers new insights into the impacts
of conflict on everyday youthful life in Belfast, and the dynamics of post-conflict memory in
the present.
Date of AwardAug 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorEugene Michail (Supervisor) & Graham Dawson (Supervisor)


  • Oral History
  • Children
  • Teenagers
  • Youth
  • Northern Ireland
  • Everyday Life

Cite this